J. Armando Rodriguez's General a Rod opened his three-year-old season with an encouraging win in Wednesday's $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby, capturing his stakes debut by a head after a hard-fought battle with Wildcat Red. Trained by Mike Maker, the newly turned three-year-old was ridden by Joel Rosario, who won four races on the New Year's Day program including both stakes.

General a Rod showed speed from his outside post in the one-turn mile event as Wildcat Red and Aarons Orient dueled on the front end through an opening quarter-mile in :23 and a half-mile in :45 4/5. The eventual winner was about a length back entering the far turn but had drawn to almost even terms by the top of the stretch.

After swinging three wide into the lane, General a Rod surged to a head advantage with a quarter-mile remaining, completing six furlongs in 1:10 1/5. Aarons Orient checked out of the fray, but Wildcat Red was not through and re-rallied along the inside to take a short lead in midstretch. The pair continued to duel to the wire, with General a Rod gaining the upper hand in the final strides.

"When I got to the horse in front, he just kind of waited a little bit," Rosario said. "He didn't want to go by, but the other horse was running pretty good, too. I thought I had a little more left when I asked him, but he did the job.

"I think he's still learning now, so going forward he'll be even better."

One of three contestants at 7-2 in the nine-horse field, General a Rod paid $9.60 to win as the co-second choice.

General a Rod was making only his third start Saturday. He opened his racing career with a 2 3/4-length victory over maiden special weight rivals at Keeneland on October 18 and entered the Gulfstream Park Derby off a runner-up finish in a one-mile optional claiming event at Churchill Downs on November 30.

“He's always shown great promise," Maker said of the lightly-raced son of Roman Ruler. "He's a big, immature colt, but since his last race he's made no mistakes.

"We were looking for a big effort today and we got it."

General a Rod completed the mile in 1:35 4/5 on the fast Gulfstream track.

Maker was asked what's next for the promising colt.

"Everything's a possibility," the conditioner said. "We'll talk it over with the owner, but my first inclination is keeping him right here (for the $400,000, Grade 3 Holy Bull on January 25)."

Wildcat Red, who was also off at 7-2, held second by a 2 1/4-length margin over 22-1 longshot East Hall in third. Next came 5-2 favorite Pablo Del Monte, Aarons Orient, Enthrone, Gone as Wind, Grand Arrival and Best Plan Yet.

Bred in Kentucky by Hare Forest Farm, General a Rod has now earned $102,200. He initially sold for $100,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale before being acquired by his owner for $72,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale three months later.

The dark bay colt is out of the Dynaformer mare Dynamite Eyes and counts Grade 3 runner-up Angel on Watch as a half-sister.